What are tannins?

Most of us have at least heard of tannins in a wine . But what is it exactly? And how does it affect our perception of wine?

Tannins are natural polyphenols found in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves and fruit skins. Polyphenols are macromolecules composed of phenols: complex bonds of oxygen and hydrogen molecules. Yes, wine is science ! The term "tannin" comes from Latin and refers to the use of tree bark to tan hides.

Tannins give the wine its astringency and tannicity. They also have an important role in wine preservation. Find out everything you need to know about tannins in wine.

How to smell tannin?

The tannins in wine add both bitterness and astringency , as well as complexity. They come from the skins, seeds and stems of grapes but also from the wood of oak barrels. They are most commonly found in red wine , although some white wines also contain tannins (from aging in wooden barrels or fermentation on the skins). A good example is putting a wet tea bag on your tongue because 50% of the dry weight of plant leaves is pure tannins. Other foods contain it such as tea leaves, walnuts, almonds and other whole nuts (with skin), dark chocolate, cinnamon and even cloves.

Which wines have the most tannin?

Red wines have more tannins than white wines, but not all red wines are created equal. Here are some examples of red wines with high tannin content:

Tannat : The most widely planted grape variety in Uruguay, Tannat is known for having some of the highest polyphenols of all red wines.

Sagrantino : A rare treasure from central Italy, Sagrantino is neck and neck with Tannat, whose tannin content is extreme.

Petite Sirah : Of French origin, Petite Sirah and its powerful flavors are now found largely in California and Mexico.

Nebbiolo : Nebbiolo is one of Italy's most legendary grapes. It stands out for its high tannin content and bitterness, while having a delicate nose.

Cabernet Sauvignon : You know this one. The most widely planted grape in the world is known for its velvety tannins and high aging potential.

Petit Verdot : Known as one of the red blend grapes of Bordeaux, Petit Verdot offers soft tannins with floral notes.

Mourvèdre : Popular in Spain and France, Mourvèdre develops quality tannins with smoky notes.

It is worth noting that the style of winemaking has a great influence on the amount of tannin contained in a wine. It is the winemaker who will decide how he wants to extract these tannins to create the style of wine he wants to have.

To learn more, read the article on the different styles of red wine.

What pairings for tannic wines?

The astringency of tannins is a perfect combination for rich, fatty foods . These are not wines to drink alone as they would become too heavy and too drying for the palate. For example, the tannins balance out with the intensity of the animal proteins in a fat-marbled steak, allowing the more subtle flavors of the wine and food to emerge. Tannin molecules bind to proteins and other organic compounds in food, concentrating them on the tongue. Doesn't that make you hungry?

What wines have no tannins?

The very process of making red wine means that they all have tannins. If it is red, there are tannins: period. But, there are also tannins in white wine! However, because most white wines are immediately pressed rather than macerated, the amount of tannin from their skins and seeds is usually quite low. We can nevertheless find long-maceration white wines with much more tannins, also called orange wine!

What is the role of tannin?

When it comes to finding the best wines, most experts will tell you that the key lies in balance ( find our article on wine balance ), essentially, the key qualities of the wine complementing each other perfectly. Tannins (which also help give wine its structure) is one of these key qualities, along with acidity and alcohol. If we were to compare wine with a human being, tannins would be the backbone of red wines because they help hold all the other elements together.

Tannins help wines age well

Despite the astringency that high-tannin wines exhibit when young, it is one of the key characteristics that allows red wines to age well for decades. Over time, these large bitter tannins will polymerize, creating long chains between them, making them softer and less harsh. This is one of the main reasons why a young, powerful wine like Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany is often aged for up to 10 years before opening.

Getting to know (and love) tannins

Given that they are described as "bitter", "dry" and "astringent", one would naturally assume that drinking wines with prominent tannins would be a thoroughly unpleasant experience. However, the taste and texture they provide are essential to the overall quality and enjoyment of the wine. It is important to taste these wines with dishes with pronounced flavors to avoid them overwhelming those of the food. They appear softer and less tannic if served with protein-rich foods such as beef or certain cheeses.

So yes, the first sip or two can leave you with raspy gums and a mouth as dry as a board of wood. This may surprise you if you don't expect it. Some people stop there, make up a polite excuse, and go in search of a smoother, velvety red wine. Others, out of stubbornness, masochism or intuition that something really interesting might come, sit and take a bite of that charcoal-grilled sirloin steak, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and crushed pepper. Emboldened, they take another sip of this wine. Then, in an instant, everything makes sense....

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See you soon TCHIN !!

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